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Let D.C. grow. That's the message from the D.C. Office of Planning, which is pushing a federal panel to allow some of the city's buildings to grow taller than they currently can.
In a document submitted to the National Capital Planning Commission last week, the Office of Planning said changes should be made to the 100-year-old law that keeps most buildings in the city from rising above 90, 130 feet or 160 feet, depending on where they are located.
According to the document, their should be changes in the ratio of building height relative to street width. The regulations are currently set at 1:1 for residential neighborhoods and 1:1 plus 20 feet for buildings on wider streets. The proposal has them increasing to 1:1.25, meaning that a building on Pennsylvania Avenue currently limited to 160 feet could reach 200 feet, while buildings on North Capitol Street could get to 162.5 feet, up from 130 feet.
Additionally, the Office of Planning says that the city should be allowed to set building heights in areas outside of the federal core, which includes the National Mall and the area up to Florida Avenue.. The city's comprehensive plan and zoning code already impose some additional height limits and officials want to be able to negotiate buildings above the Height Act's caps through those two tools.
The Office of Planning says that the city's growth justifies the changes to the 1910 Height Act, which is credited for maintaining the city's open skyline and criticized for forcing development outward instead of upward. If buildings are not allowed to grow, it warns, D.C., which has grown by 60,000 residents since 2000, could soon become too expensive for many people to afford.
"Without the ability of supply to meet demand the city would face ever increasing price pressures that would limit who could afford to live here and constrain the city’s economic growth," says the document.
D.C. officials have long pushed for changes to the Height Act, saying that they would help expand the city's tax base. Critics have worried that any changes would usher in an era of New York-style skyscrapers that could dwarf the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument's prominence in the city's skyline.
In late 2012, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the committee with oversight over D.C., asked the National Capital Planning Commission to study the issue. Earlier this month, the commission recommended only that the law be changed to allow mechanical penthouses on building roofs to be used for human habitation, but that existing height restrictions in the federal core be left intact. It did leave the door open for taller buildings on the city's fringes, though.
Both the commission's report and the city's proposals will be forwarded to Congress in November, which will then decide whether or not to change the Height Act.